Anxiety and depression are common place in our society these days. There is new research emerging that is showing that we might actually have the whole depression/anxiety/mood disorder thing back to front. There is a strong connection between your gut and your brain, and it turns out that this may be having more of an impact on our brains and moods that what we first thought.
Most people that are familiar with the ketogenic diet know it as a way to achieve amazing, sustainable weight loss. But many are now using keto to treat anxiety and depression. This low-carb, very high-fat diet was initially designed to help adolescents suffering from epileptic seizures. This alone should be evidence that what you eat can have a profound effect on the brain and subsequently your moods.
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The keto/brain connection has made many people turn to is as a way of helping naturally treat and in some cases cure anxiety and depression.
How Your Brain Affects Your Gut
How often do we refer to our guts in relation to our feelings? “A gut feeling” “Sinking in the pit of my stomach” “butterflies in my stomach” or the times you have been very stressed so you vomit, or get diarrhoea?
This is your brain driving your gut. If you are stressed or anxious, you even change the production of stomach acid through nerve connections causing reflux or ulcers.
Up until recently it was presumed that the gut symptoms came about from an underlying psychological disorder, such as anxiety, depression or hysteria. Anxiety does change gut function (1). Over time, this can lead to unpleasant symptoms such as pain, diarrhoea, bloating or excessive fullness.
For example many people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or severe indigestion are anxious, for instance.
But we may have this backwards, because many signals go up to the brain from the gut (2) as well as going down to the gut. So new science is showing that in at least some cases, changes in the gut are actually causing the anxiety and depression rather than the other way around.
How The Gut Changes Your Brain
There was a study over a 12-year period in Sydney that found about 50% of the participants with chronic gut issues had been anxious first and then developed their gut problems.
However, the other 50% developed the gut disorder before the anxiety started (3).
How The Gut Microbiome Alters Your Brain
You gut microbiome is the unique combination of bacteria, viruses, yeast and parasites that live in your gut. They can be good, bad or indifferent. They coat the lining of your digestive tract all the way from the mouth through to the bottom.
Your microbiome actually interact and communicate with the nervous system through certian pathways, including the immune system, that keeps them in check.
Studies have shown that an imbalance in your biome can affect your brain’s chemistry and, in some cases, may lead to anxiety or depression.
New evidence also suggests when the gut is inflamed, it may affect the brain and lead to psychological dysfunction.
The new science of depression
We all know that you are depressed because you have run out of happy juice (serotonin), right? To fix it, all you have to do it take a pill that will slow down how fast your body breaks down the serotonin so it can build back it’s numbers known as SSRI’s like Prozac.
However, new science is showing that our destinies are not written in our genes(4). AND new data has revealed that SSRIs don’t work (5), along with a mountain of research studies, have debunked the deterministic serotonin model of depression (6).
Instead, we’re finding that depression is often a symptom of chronic inflammation.
How have be become so inflamed?
We are all at risk for chronic, silent inflammation because we are living at a time where our modern lifestyles create incompatibilities between what our genes expect of us and what our world demands.
We eat foods that are processed beyond recognition, are sitting inside offices and cars most of the day, and are exposed to thousands of modern chemicals, lighting and constant stressors.
Inflammation is the result of these types of conflicts.
Science is showing that chronic inflammation is at the root of nearly every disease (7).
Inflammation is linked to everything from metabolic disorders, like obesity and diabetes, heart disease, infertility with lower sperm counts and PCOS, to neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
Your gut’s microbiome produces more serotonin (along with about 30 other neurotransmitters) than your brain, and about 95 percent of serotonin receptors are found in the gut itself.
Now you can begin to see how your gut becomes central to feeling happy.
High inflammatory markers are associated with depression and anxiety
Usually we would recognize inflammation, a signal that something is wrong. Inflammation is felt as pain, swelling and heat. However, because the brain does not have pain receptors, it’s difficult for us to know when our brains are inflamed.
Researchers identify brain inflammation by blood tests measuring the levels of inflammatory proteins, such as C-reactive protein.
New research is showing that markers of inflammation are substantially elevated in depressed patients. In another study, researchers measured C-reactive protein levels in over 1000 women for several years. They found that increases in C-reactive protein triggered the onset of depression .
When inflammation was triggered, depression was triggered.
AND they found that when inflammation is created in healthy people, they develop depressive symptoms .
These studies, that show that body inflammation creates brain symptoms, support the exciting concept of psychoneuroimmunology. Psychoneuroimmunology, which reveals that all systems and organs are connected, is literally rewriting the book on psychiatric disorders like depression.
Psychoneuroimmunology helps us understand that no one is “just born with it” when it comes to disease.
We have the power to heal ourselves.
Heal your gut, heal your brain
Considering the function and role of our gut, it makes sense that most of our immune cells are located in the gut .
When a potential threat is sensed in the gut, large, far-reaching systemic inflammation occurs. You have a very strong link from your gut to your brain via the vagus nerve. This nerve is the one that makes you feel sick or throw up before you faint.
Inflammation can travel directly from your gut to your brain, through the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve that comes from the brain. It is connected to several parts of the gut, including the stomach, intestines and other organs important for digestion, like the pancreas.
While it’s best to manage stressors to reduce stress-related symptoms, one of the most direct and quick ways to calm the vagus nerve is through dietary change.
Just as emotions send messages to your gut, food sends messages to your brain.
How does food make inflammation?
There are many drivers of gut inflammation that leads to depressive symptoms.
When we eat highly processed foods, our gut cells set off the alarm of inflammation. Our bodies do not recognise these as food, but the chemicals and sugar cause an activation of your immune system.
Sugar, artificial sweeteners, and casein proteins (found in dairy) have been shown to activate inflammation as well.
Consuming processed, nutrient-poor foods and some medications can radically change the gut microbiome.
These alterations in the microbiome, can lead to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. Once you have leaky gut, the proteins from your foods can escape from your gut and get in to your blood stream. This is not where they are supposed to be, so your body creates a immune response to these proteins, and now you are reacting to them every time you eat them.
A healthy microbiome is essential for a healthy brain .
How can you reduce inflammation and cure anxiety and depression?
For some people, committing to stop eating dairy, gluten, soy and food additives that drive inflammation is an effective start to curing anxiety and depression.
It can be overwhelming and difficult to change ingrained habits like eating. However the ketogenic diet and living in nutritional ketosis is one of the most soothing things you can do for your body.
To fix your brain and feel better, you have to start with the gut. These eight gut-focused strategies can benefit nearly every person who struggles with mood disorders:
1. Reduce your toxic load.
We’re inundated with about 80,000 chemicals in our daily life, and chief among them are often the artificial substances, fillers, food dyes, processed foods, and sweeteners you eat on a daily basis that are causing a toxic buildup in your body.
Switch to organic foods where you can, and try to remove as many toxins from your house and work place as you can.
2. Lower your inflammation.
Gut-associated inflammation manifests differently in each person.
It may be
- Mood disorders
- Autoimmune diseases
- Weight gain
To lower inflammation, diet is the place to begin. Most Americans eat about 20 times more inflammatory omega-6s than anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Shift that balance with more nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory organic produce, wild-caught fish, freshly ground flaxseed, and a quality fish-oil supplement. Eat real, grass fed meats, and real butter.
Curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric, has been extensively researched as a superior anti-inflammatory and antidepressant. Studies have shown that curcumin is better than Prozac for depression.
3. Quit eating sugar
Eating high-sugar or sugar-equivalent foods feeds the yeast, leading to the production of neurotoxins that cause
- Mental fog
- Mood swings
- Problems with memory retention
- Poor concentration
- Inability to focus
- Food cravings
You know the obvious culprits, but even “healthy” foods like agave-sweetened cookies can add to your sugar load.
Anything sweet will cause a rise in your insulin levels in your blood. Over time, chronic high levels cause insulin resistance, which means your body needs to make more and more insulin to keep your sugars down.
This state of insulin resistance is very pro-inflammatory and it is the root cause of many of the chronic illnesses. Quitting sugar is the first step to helping with this.
4. Eat the right foods.
Curing mood disorders like anxiety and depression, starts at the end of your fork, not a prescription.
Your gut is the foundation for greater happiness and wellness.
Feed it correctly with natural plant foods, healthy fats (like butter, tallow, coconut oil, walnuts, avocados, and olive oil), and some protein (particularly omega-3-rich fish). And throw in fermented and cultured foods rich in probiotics, like kimchi and sauerkraut.
5. Decrease your stress.
Chronic stress takes a massive toll on your mental wellbeing, but it also messes with your gut. Powerful tools to use to dial down stress levels include
- Deep breathing
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
6. Sleep well.
Studies show bad sleep puts pressure on your immune system, increases inflammation, and affects your gut biome.
- Turn off electronics about an hour before bed
- Get eight hours of solid, uninterrupted nightly sleep
- Make your room dark and cool
7. Heal your gut.
These include the gut-healing amino acid L-glutamine, the serotonin precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), and a good probiotic supplement. Probiotics compete against bad bugs, one of the many ways they protect us from harmful pathogens.
8. Employ nutritional ketosis
Nutritional ketosis is the state where your blood ketone levels are between 1 and 5mmol. This is a highly non-inflammatory state to be in.
Ketones actively reduce inflammation, and if you are in ketosis it means that your sugar levels and insulin levels will reduce and normalize which is also anti-inflammatory.